Mandatory qualifications would strengthen aged care worker professionalism, report states

Published on 6 March 2024

Mandatory minimum qualifications would ensure workers are adequately equipped to do their jobs. [Source: Shutterstock]

A report released by The Australia Institute Centre for Future Work has outlined the benefits of mandating sector-wide aged care training requirements as part of a national care worker registration and accreditation scheme as it would ensure higher quality care for older Australians.

Key points

  • The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety called for a mandatory minimum Certificate III qualification in aged care as part of a national registration scheme (Recommendation 77)
  • The Centre for Future Work warns that incoming aged care reforms do not go far enough to ensure the quality and safety or recognise workers’ skills
  • Two out of three care workers already hold a Certificate III or higher, meaning costs would be minimal while the outcomes would be highly beneficial

From July several reforms will come into effect that will impact aged care staff, including new aged care screening requirements and a mandatory Code of Conduct for Aged Care. While both are important elements of aged care reform, Dr Fiona Macdonald, Policy Director, The Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, argued they do not go far enough in her report, Professionalising the Aged Care Workforce. 

“This is about long-term sustainability for the aged care workforce. Setting a minimum education standard for all aged care workers would lead to higher quality care. It would also allow for the recognition of the skills required to care for society’s most vulnerable,” Dr Macdonald said.

“Workers are facing new demands to comply with screening and obligations to meet standards under a new code of conduct. Yet, there is still no formal recognition of workers’ skills or system-wide requirements for accredited training.”

Dr Macdonald added that although the screening system will exclude unsuitable workers, there are no requirements for workers to maintain and develop their skills and knowledge, and no explicit recognition of workers who do.

“While the government is moving to screen out unsuitable aged care workers, it is failing to give those working in or considering aged care meaningful professional development or options for career progression,” she added.

Report author Dr Fiona Macdonald, Policy Director, The Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute. [Source: Women’s Agenda]

“Mandatory and coordinated accreditation would allow workers to have their skills recognised, boost job satisfaction and make the industry more attractive as a long-term career.”

With the aged care sector facing ongoing workforce attention issues, a national registration and accreditation scheme would legitimise a professionalisation strategy where workers are recognised for all education and training. 

It could also work in conjunction with the national skills passport being developed by the Federal Government. The national skills passport was announced in the Working Future White Paper, released last September, and it would connect workers looking for a job with employers seeking their specific qualifications. 

Ongoing costs for minimum Certificate III qualifications would be relatively low according to Dr Macdonald, who proposed an initial fee-free period for workers that would reduce costs to $100-$200 per year.

Continued State or Federal government investments in fee-free TAFE courses would also keep costs at a minimum, although providers would likely cover the cost of some paid training time. 

Not only would this support ensure all workers are qualified, but the expected benefits include clearer career pathways, more opportunities for higher pay, increased job security and greater job satisfaction. 

Dr Macdonald said this would benefit aged care workers, care recipients and organisations alike as the sector would be more attractive and public confidence in the system would grow.

“Four out of five aged care workers are women and care work has long been undervalued and low paid. Fixing this is vital for people receiving care, workers and our communities,” she said.

“The Aged Care Royal Commission has been crystal clear about the need for these reforms. It’s beyond time to deliver them.”

There are some perceived risks of mandatory training and qualification requirements, however, as newly introduced rigidity could result in a loss of staff if not implemented carefully. Examples include inflexible pathways to registration or limited support for individuals who must take on new qualifications.

Given that many aged care employers already require new staff to hold a relevant Certificate III qualification, Dr Macdonald argued it should not stop attracting new workers. 

“With staged implementation of a mandatory education requirement and ongoing support for affordable access to training, the introduction of a mandatory qualification requirement need not be a significant barrier to workforce entry or retention,” she said.

Click here to view the full Professionalising the Aged Care Workforce report.

aged care workforce
aged care reform
Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety
certificate III
aged care registration
The Australia Institute Centre for Future Work
Mandatory qualifications
Fiona Macdonald
aged care qualification
minimum education standard